1. Email Marketing

How to use humour in email marketing

Are you the type of person who likes wearing PJs while working from home? Or would you rather ditch the pants during the workweek?

Well, according to this email  from AI copywriting service Phrasee, you can go without pants – as long as you stay in your seat during Zoom calls, of course.

An email from AI software company Phrasee demonstrating how to use humour in email marketing
Image source: Email on Acid

This email is a great example of humour being used in an email marketing campaign. It’s topical, relatable (who doesn’t do Zoom meetings nowadays?) and casual enough for the reader to generate a feeling of familiarity.

But what exactly makes humour so effective in getting recipients to open an email and click on a button? Read on to find out. 

Two reasons to use humour in email marketing campaigns

Companies use email marketing to help create awareness, identify leads, and convert them to customers. But smart brands combine this with humour –  the most positive and powerful emotion – to make their company relatable. 

Using humour in email marketing helps build engagement, improve a brand’s reputation, and influence purchase decisions. And it’s been shown that customers like brands that have friendly staff who engage with their audience in a meaningful way.

If you needed further convincing, here are two clear reasons why you should use humour in your email campaigns:

1. Humour triggers an emotional response

When you write content that evokes emotions, your digital marketing strategy becomes more successful. Among all of the emotions, humour is one of the most effective ways to trigger a feel-good response in your audience because it brings your brand closer to your target market. 

Much like how a funny story shared between friends or colleagues can strengthen relationships, a joke can build a connection between your brand and audience. People love individuals and brands who aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves, and when you use humour, you make your brand less anonymous and more human. This builds trust in your business.

2. Humour amplifies brand recall

Humour delivers positive emotional experiences. And it stands to reason that positive experiences have a higher recall than neutral experiences. In fact, humour has been scientifically proven to boost memory recall, even among those who are initially skeptical or not at ease about something.

The use of humour in your marketing campaigns also allows your brand to stand out from the competition.

Think about some of the memorable advertising campaigns you’ve found engaging. I can think of a couple of amusing examples.

Screenshot of a marketing video from Dollar Shave Club – an example of humour in marketing

For example, there’s the DollarShaveClub advertising campaign. If you’ve never watched it before, I recommend you check it out. The advert is very amusing. So amusing that I still remember the advert years later.

The Harmon Brothers Agency is another example. They have run several viral marketing campaigns that rely on comedy to generate customer engagement and sales for their clients.

Screenshot of a marketing video produced by the Harmon Brothers Agency – another example of how to use humour in marketing campaigns

The ad above, created for bedding company Purple, takes an age-old tale – “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” – and adds its own spin to it, using eggs, a glass plate, and up to 1,400 pounds of steel weights. It uses a combination of humour and information that is balanced enough to make even someone like Goldilocks (and close to 200 million viewers) say “just right”.

How to make humour a part of your email marketing strategy

What is the difference between a person telling a joke and a brand doing the same? The person has one aim, to entertain, while the brand needs to entertain and connect the joke to its brand image.

To be effective, humour needs to be applied consistently across all your brand content. This includes your web content, blogs, and the copy in your emails.

To use or not to use humour

Trying to use humour in your copy is difficult. In fact, some very well-known copywriters have made the case that you should never use humour in your sales copy.

John Caples is famous for making the following quote: “Avoid humour. You can entertain a million people and not sell one of them. There is not a single humorous line in two of the most influential books in the world, namely, the Bible and the Sears Roebuck catalog.”

It’s not my place to argue with a legendary copywriter.

Humour is clearly subjective. If you tell 100 people a joke, some will laugh. Other people won’t understand the joke.

You will struggle to sell to someone who doesn’t understand your jokes. You alienate these people, which is the point I feel John Caples was making.

Yet, humour can and has been used successfully by companies to generate an engaged audience. Humour can also, as shown in that Harmon Brothers example, be used to generate massive amounts of sales.

There are two keys to using humour in marketing:

  1. You need someone funny on your team: While most people can crack jokes at home and at work, you need someone who can write them and make readers laugh their bellies off. If you don’t have anyone funny enough on board, hire a freelance comic to help you write funny copy.
  2. You need to decide if humour is appropriate for your niche: Nowadays, you need to be sensitive about the humour you use as some sectors might find your jokes offensive. This could have a disastrous effect on your brand.

In some contexts, humour is not appropriate. Equally, you shouldn’t make jokes about certain topics unless you want to offend a lot of people. For example, religion and politics.

When and where to use humour

Humour works well at every stage of the funnel. You can use humour and engaging copy to grab your audience’s attention at the awareness stage. And it’s equally as important at building customer loyalty during the retention stage. 

Humour can also give you a leg up on your competition that lacks an engaging brand voice. Take the example of AppSumo.

An example of humour used in email marketing from SaaS brand AppSumo

They have a defined brand voice and inject comedy into their copy.

The key to using humour is to know when it is appropriate. Self-deprecating humour works well with most audiences. Humour based around current events can also work.

Inside jokes are also very effective for engaging with a small group of people. For example there are jokes about SEO that you would only understand if you know the sector. You can use this to your advantage if you want to engage a group of people around a certain topic.

Three examples of humour in emails done right

So now you’re itching to spice up your emails with humour but seeking the inspiration to get started. These three examples will help in getting your creative juices flowing and tickling your funny bone. Remember to craft the humour for your audience and keep it relevant to your industry or product.

BarkBox

BarkBox is a website selling toys, treats, and goodies for your dog. The brand uses humour in all its communication.

The monthly newsletter is built around a theme that goes for the “aww” effect. You can see how they generate those emotive responses in the email copy and visuals.

BarkBox keeps a consistent humorous tone across all its email marketing campaigns. Here’s one example:

Example of humour used in email marketing from BarkBox

HubSpot

Customer acquisition is the first goal of any marketing campaign, while customer retention is the holy grail of digital marketing and email strategies. It’s harder to attract new customers than to retain existing ones, so your brand should do everything in its power to keep your current clients. 

HubSpot takes customer retention emails very seriously. When a customer unsubscribes from HubSpot’s mailing list, they receive a “breakup letter” from stand-up comedian and HubSpot marketing specialist Dan Sally, who will make you feel guilty about leaving with his hilarious breakup video.

Screenshot from a video used in Hubspot's customer retention email campaign

At RightInbox, we like to take this approach by inserting GIFs into emails. Little tricks like this can help get a reaction from the reader, which increases the chance they take action.

Huckberry

We are more likely to accept suggestions from people we know and like, and we like people who are similar to us. It’s no different when it comes to brands that we like.

Huckberry’s gentle and subtle humour appeals to its audience. Check out the subject line and content from one of their recent email marketing campaigns.

Here’s the subject line:

Screenshot of a funny subject line used in an email marketing campaign by men's clothing brand Huckberry

The recipients clicked to open this email:

Example of an email marketing campaign from Huckberry that combines humour with a sales message

The title of the email refers to a well known video that went viral during the pandemic and the recipients instinctively clicked on the mail to open it. The email is a vehicle for launching its spring collection of shorts.

Wrapping up

Brands weave humour into their email marketing strategies to build deeper relations with customers. As seen in the examples above, an emotional connection will help you build a strong connection with your audience and amplify your brand’s awareness and recall.

There are some niches where humour is obviously not appropriate. If you’re managing a crematorium, I’d recommend avoiding comedy. However, in most niches, it’s possible to inject an element of humour into your client communications. The first thing you need to do is decide how often and when it is appropriate to use humour at your company. Make sure you have clear guidelines because humour is subjective.

The key to using humour in your email marketing is to think of your customers as your friends and converse with them in a casual tone. Good luck with tickling your consumer’s funny bones!

About the author

David Campbell is a digital marketing specialist at Ramp Ventures. He helps manage the content marketing team at RightInbox. When he’s not working, he enjoys traveling and trying to learn Spanish.

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